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Taking Away Fear of the Unknown

On a Monday in early June 2017, Danielle Collins went to Pilates like any other day. But during the class she felt a sharp pain in her head, forcing her to leave early. She chalked it up to a bad migraine, but after two days of suffering through the pain, Collins decided to see a doctor, only to discover she was experiencing life-threatening bleeding in her brain.

Danielle Collins

Collins, who works as a realtor at Chevy Chase, Maryland-based Wydler Brothers Real Estate, found out at 27 years old that her brain was bleeding due to a ruptured arteriovenous malformation (AVM), an abnormal connection between the arteries and veins.

“I was running 8 miles five times a week before this happened,” Collins says, adding that she has always been health conscious. “I hadn’t taken Advil, hadn’t had a drink of alcohol, hadn’t had anything in almost seven years. So I didn’t take Aleve or Excedrin … which would have thinned my blood and probably killed me.”

Collins quickly found herself sitting in a room at the George Washington University (GW) Hospital looking at images of the inside of her brain. The device used, Precision Virtual Reality (VR), offers 3-D views of medical conditions and helps identify possible surgical paths.

“It provided a tangible way to understand the surgical plan, and made me feel like I was truly a part of the process,” she says. “When you have an injury on your body, like a gash on your arm, you can see that. But when something is undetectable by sight, to provide sight to the areas that would be blind to you is incredible. It took away part of the fear of the unknown.”

Over the next 10 days at GW Hospital, Collins received two angiograms, an MRI, CAT scans, and a craniotomy. “This was the best thing that ever happened to me,” she says. “No day is a bad day to me anymore; I woke up this morning.”

Only months removed from her surgery, Collins was back at work and back to her morning runs. “Running is time to clear my head,” she says. “I run because I want to live a long life, I want to have a healthy body.”

Now, Collins notes, she wants to give back, with plans to create a fund to support family members of hospital patients.

She adds that she found peace in a Bible passage from 2 Timothy 1:7 that says: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but peace (love), power, and a sound mind.”

“On June 12, God, with the team of surgeons and everyone at GW, gave me a sound mind, and it was something I never even knew I needed because I had no prior knowledge of the AVM,” she says. “It’s amazing what minds collectively put together were able to do to save my mind.”